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Parashat Yitro

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Rachel Levy A’h by her grandson Alan Fallas

Parashat Yitro

This week’s parasha is named after Moshe Rabenu’s father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro), a high priest of Midian. Why would the Torah begin a new section with Yitro, and why would our Rabbis choose this section to be the start of a new parasha, which would then carry his name? Why confer such an honor on Yitro, an idolatrous Midianite, especially in a parasha that carries the holy words of the Ten Commandments?

Yitro’s Greatness

Maybe the answer to this question lies in the first two words of the parasha (18:1), “vayishma Yitro — and Yitro heard.” The passuk goes on to say that Yitro heard what Hashem had done for Moshe and B’nei Yisrael. According to Rashi, Yitro heard of the parting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek. These two events were known to everyone, but the Torah singles out Yitro for a very important reason. Yitro not only heard, but also decided to act on what he had heard by converting to Judaism.

Yitro had been a very prominent high priest in his religion, as well as an advisor to Pharaoh. The midrash teaches that Yitro looked at all the various forms of idolatry that existed at the time, and was able to come to the understanding that Hashem is the one and only true G-d!

It is one thing to realize intellectually that something is true, but it’s another thing to act on it. It is difficult for someone who has held certain beliefs his entire life to change his way of thinking in his later years. A change of that kind involves the realization that everything you have believed up to then has been wrong. That was Yitro’s greatness. What we learn from him is that if Yitro — a non-Jewish priest — could make such an amazing change, then so can we!

Change is Possible

Hashem gives each and every one of us opportunities to grow. We must first recognize that opportunity when we encounter it, and then have the courage to take advantage of it and eventually adopt and embrace it! Making these changes is probably one of the hardest things we can do, because we may risk leaving behind lifelong friends who are not following on the same path as we are. However, if the changes take place at an unhurried pace and with long-term growth in mind, they will ultimately prove to be changes for the better, elevating your family to a life of Torah values that will bring you much beracha and give your children and grandchildren a valuable legacy for many generations to come!

There is a story about a group of young boys who lived in our community about fifty years ago. These boys, all in their late teens, were passionate about basketball. They used to play in the schoolyard every Sunday, and after their game was over, they would head over to their favorite deli for something to eat.

One particular Sunday, a friend of one of the boys asked him to help his Rabbi raise money for the Rabbi’s new yeshiva. The boy agreed, and persuaded the other players to join in as well. Over the next few weeks, they raised hundreds of dollars for the Rabbi’s yeshiva.

The Rabbi was so impressed that he asked to meet the boy who was behind the fundraising. The boy was reluctant at first, but then agreed to meet with the Rabbi. When they met, the teen was very impressed by the Rabbi and decided to go and learn with his friend at the Rabbi’s yeshiva. Most of the other boys didn’t follow them, but as time passed, these two boys continued to learn and grow in Torah.

The boy became so close to the Rabbi that he eventually married the Rabbi’s daughter. These two boys grew to be leading Rabbi’s in our community. They heard the words of Torah, and they listened, and then they acted on what they heard. For the past forty plus years they have been spreading Torah learning throughout our community by means of their yeshivot and kollelim.

If you haven’t guessed ye by now...the boy who raised the money is none other than Rabbi Shlomo Diamond of the Sephardic kollel in Deal and of the Ilan High School. His friend is Rabbi Hillel Haber of Shaare Torah. Because they acted on what they heard, through their teachings they helped so many families in our community grow to great spiritual heights Baruch HaShem!

Growing up in our community, many of us were very influenced by these and other Rabbi’s that took many less observant and even non-observant families through an awakening of growth in Torah to become more observant. As I experienced my own growth over my lifetime, I also witnessed more and more mainstream families make the decision to become baalei teshuva. This transformation meant leaving a lot of our old ways behind us and adopting new habits and changes through our Torah learning which led us to tremendous personal growth in mitzvot and ma’asim tovim.

The Ten Commandments

This parasha includes the aseret hadibberot (Ten Commandments). We learn that the five commandments on the right tablet correspond to the five commandments on the left:

· The first commandment, “I am Hashem,” is opposite the fifth, “You shall not murder.” This tells us that Hashem gives us life and we are forbidden to take that life.

· The second commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” is opposite “You shall not commit adultery.” In other words, don’t cheat on Hashem and don’t cheat on your spouse.

· Third is the commandment not to take G-d’s name in vain, which is opposite “You shall not steal.” This tells us that a thief will use Hashem’s name in vain to try and prove he’s innocent.

· There is a great yesod (fundamental concept) which is most profoundly exemplified in the fourth and ninth commandments. In the fourth commandment, it says, “Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it” and opposite, the ninth: “You shall not bear false witness against your fellow.” A Jew who keeps the Shabbat testifies that the world was created by Hashem’s utterance. One who gives false testimony corrupts his speech. This leaves him unable to testify that Hashem created the world, which is a main point of Shabbat! Also, truth keeps the world alive, while falsehood destroys it. One who uses his mouth to utter falsehoods cannot possibly provide testimony about Shabbat, which is a memorial that upholds the existence of the world.

· Lastly, the fifth commandment, “Honor your parents,” faces the injunction against “coveting your friend.” There is a profound lesson to be had here. Honoring our parents is part of honoring Hashem for His gifts. Hashem, like our parents, showers us with gifts. And if we appreciate everything that Hashem has given us and understand that we have been given all that we need, there will be no reason to covet what others have.

Life is a Package Deal

Rabbi Frand asks a different question regarding the tenth commandment. Why does the Torah provide a list of things that we may not covet (our neighbor’s house, wife, servants, ox, donkey), and then end with a generalization (or anything that belongs to your neighbor)? Rabbi Frand answers: If you want your friend’s house or his wife, then you have to take the whole package, including your friend’s troubles. The Torah is clearly teaching us to be careful for what we wish for.

There is a well-known mashal that my father taught me growing up. If we were to put all our troubles into a suitcase, and place the suitcase in a circle with everyone else’s suitcases of troubles, would we take someone else’s package or would we take our own package back? The answer is, of course, we would take our own package back, because we don’t know what someone else’s package might contain!

The Power of Torah

There are many religious Jews in the world, however this does not console Hashem over the millions who do not even know Who He is. If someone’s child were missing, lo aleinu, no one would say to him, “Why do you feel so bad? You still have six more beautiful children at home.” Everyone knows that a parent loves each child like an only child. So, too, it is with Hashem. He loves each Jew like an only child. He wants every Jew close to Him, no matter how far they have strayed from the path.

Rav Elimelech Biderman told an amazing story that happened to Rabbi Yosef Palech, from Kiryat Harim Levin. The Rabbi gave a Gemara shiur to a small group of Baalei Teshuvah men every night in Tel Aviv. The participants were extremely committed to the class; however, one night the weather was so bad that no one was able to make it to the class that night except for Rabbi Palech who was the only one that showed up. The Rabbi had been giving this shiur for years without missing a single night, and he didn’t want to start now. He went out to the street in an attempt to find someone that he could teach, but no one was outside in that weather.

“Please Hashem,” he beseeched, “help me find someone.”

He crossed the street and approached an unkempt house that bore a mezuzah on the door and knocked. A man who was clearly not observant opened the door, exposing the foul-smelling, untidy interior. Nevertheless, the Rabbi politely asked, “I was wondering whether you would be interested in learning Torah with me tonight.”

The man opened his eyes wide and tearfully shouted. “Who brought you here? Come in!” Between wrenching sobs, he managed to tell the Rabbi his life story.

“After the war,” he began, “I was a lonely Holocaust survivor. I wanted nothing more to do with Judaism or Hashem. My life has been one long chain of misery. I have nothing in this world. No wife. No family. No money. Nothing.”

He then pointed to the ceiling beam from which a rope was dangling. “Tonight, I was ready to put an end to my misery. Before I took this drastic step, I cried out, ‘G-d in Heaven, if You are here with me and You really want me, show me that You need me and I will come back to You.’ Since the day I moved into this house, no one has ever knocked on my door. Just moments ago, when I finished my prayer, you came. Yes, I want to come learn with you tonight, Rabbi. Please guide me back to Hashem.”

Many years later when Rabbi Palech passed on, this man, who by then was fully observant, came to the shivah and shared this story with the Rabbi’s family.

Hashem loves all of us, and wants everyone to be close to Him. No matter how far a person has strayed from the path, Hashem yearns for him to come back.

May we all have the strength to act on the Torah that we hear so that we may find the true path of Torah for ourselves and our families. This way we will grow in Torah values, which will benefit our families in so many wonderful ways. May we also respect the Ten Commandments which includes the Shabbat and realize its koach, so as not to desecrate it with mundane talk. Since we are true partners with Hashem in the creation of the world, we should take advantage of that power we have and use it for our special prayers on Shabbat! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Discussion Points:

· What do we know that we should be doing, but aren’t doing yet?

· Do we give Shabbat the respect that it deserves?

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Leiluiy Nishmat....

Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah

Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana

Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rafael Ben Miriam

Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal

Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal

Chanah Bat Esthe Ovadia Ben Esther

Moshe Ben Garaz Rahamim Ben Mazal

Avraham Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Mazal

Yaakov Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Kami

Meir Ben Latifa Moshe Ben Yael

Malka Bat Garaz Mordechai Ben Rachel

Yaakov Ben Leah

Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal

Natan Ben Rachel

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